Prior to his fight being booked at UFC 259, Drew Dober was originally expected to face a top-10 ranked opponent in Diego Ferreira but he ended up with Islam Makhachev instead but you’ll hear no complaints out of him about the new matchup.
Currently riding a three-fight win streak with all of his opponents being finished by knockout, Dober has been clamoring for some attention in the ultra-deep lightweight division. While Ferreira would have come along with a higher number next to his name, Dober sees greater value in Makhachev thanks to the attention he’s been receiving while being touted as the next Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Makhachev has trained alongside the UFC lightweight champion for his entire career and now that Nurmagomedov has retired from active competition, he’s seemingly passing the torch to his friend and teammate.
That all adds up to a lot of eyes watching Makhachev and Dober hopes to steal that spotlight away with his performance on Saturday night.
“Rankings are just a popularity contest and Islam Makhachev is extremely popular, even more so than Diego [Ferreira] with the relationship with Khabib,” Dober told MMA Fighting. “I think this is a better matchup. He doesn’t have the same number next to his name but he has more of the fans. There’s going to be so many eyes on this fight that it’s motivating.
“That’s why I love this matchup. There’s so much hype around this fighter in Islam, I want to test that hype, showcase my abilities and just prove to everyone that I’m willing to fight champions in my division.”
In terms of matchup, Dober and Makhachev clash in styles with the American typically relying on his heavy hands to finish fights while the Russian counters with a suffocating wrestling attack and powerful grappling game.
For Dober it’s nothing new because whether he’s facing a high-level wrestler or not, he’s just kind of come to the understanding that at some point during a fight, all of his opponents are going to try to take him down.
“In my honest opinion, anybody who feels my hands wants to take me down,” Dober said. “I’m prepared for everyone that they put in front of me is going to want to dive for my feet and put me on my back. But Islam has not fought in over a year and a half. Who knows. I’ve been working on my ground game, he’s probably been working on his striking. He might come in and try to kickbox with me.
“I focus less on predicting my opponent and more on just improving my ability to handle anything. Once I get in there, I’m going to see in the first round what he wants to do. Once I figure that out, I’m going to make his life uncomfortable.”
Much like Nurmagomedov throughout his career, Makhachev rarely hides his intention to drag an opponent to the ground and make life miserable for them as long as the fight stays on the floor.
As much as Makhachev might try to rely on his grappling, Dober knows that he’s not actually facing the UFC lightweight champion on Saturday night regardless of the similarities and comparisons between the two.
“He’s going to be shooting for the takedown. He’s going to take the fight where he feels comfortable and my goal is to make him uncomfortable and see how he reacts to that,” Dober said. “In my humble opinion, he hasn’t fought the guys that Khabib fought and I’m still kind of questioning if he’s able to handle that fire fight, his durability, his push.
“He’s fought a lot of grapplers, really tough grapplers but I don’t think he’s fought a really tough stand-up fighter or someone who is as well-rounded as I am. I’m going to see in his eyes how uncomfortable or if he gets uncomfortable and how these second and third rounds are going to make a difference.”
That said, Dober is treating Makhachev like he’s the most terrifying lightweight on the planet, which is what pushed his own preparation to get ready for UFC 259.
“I’m preparing that all the hype is true,” Dober said. “I’m preparing that he’s the best in the world. I’m preparing that he’s better than Khabib. That’s what I’m preparing for.
“The monster in my head is faster, bigger, stronger than Islam could ever be. I’m going to go in there expecting the worst but he might not be that good.”
None of his past three opponents have made it past the second round so Dober obviously has the kind of finishing power to put anybody away early but he’s not going to make some bold prediction about how long Makhachev will last with him.
Instead, Dober offers that option to his opponent.
“I promise you I will touch Islam’s chin and it’s up to him what round he falls down in,” Dober said. “My last loss against Beneil Dariush, I had a spectacular first round. If there was a third round, I would have finished that fight but I made some grappling mistakes in that second round.
“I’ve been obsessed with that loss. Beneil taught me a lot and I’m ready to showcase the new and improved Drew Dober. I’m ready for a three-round MMA war.”
If all goes well at UFC 259, Dober already has an idea in mind for what he wants next but he knows none of that happens without dispatching Makhachev this weekend.
“Let’s boil it down. If things happen the way I want them to happen and make it out of this fight with a win, I want RDA (Rafael dos Anjos) main event this summer,” Dober said. “I’ve been eyeballing it. He popped into the rankings. He fought Paul Felder, won by split decision and I want that opportunity.
“I think it’s a good matchup. We’re both southpaws, we’re both bigger individuals at lightweight and we both like to bang. He’s a former world champion. That’s the fight I want.”